Never too old to code — Meet Japan’s 82-year-old app-maker

Fujisawa, Japan: When 82-year-old Masako Wakamiya first began working she still used an abacus for maths — today she is one of the world’s oldest iPhone app developers, a trailblazer in making smartphones accessible for the elderly.
Frustrated by the lack of interest from the tech industry in engaging older people, she taught herself to code and set about doing it herself.
The over 60s, she insists, need to actively search out new skills to stay nimble. “As you age, you lose many things: your husband, your job, your hair, your eyesight. The minuses are quite numerous. But when you learn something new, whether it be programming or the piano, it is a plus, it’s motivating,” she says.
“Once you’ve achieved your professional life, you should return to school. In the era of the Internet, if you stop learning, it has consequences for your daily life,” Wakamiya explains during an interview at her home.
She became interested in computers in the 1990s when she retired from her job as a bank clerk.
It took her months to set up her first system, beginning with BBS messaging, a precursor to the Internet, before building her skills on a Microsoft PC, and then Apple’s Mac and iPhones.
She asked software developers to come up with more for the elderly, but a repeated lack of response led her to take matters into her own hands. Wakamiya learned the basics of coding and developed ‘Hinadan’ one of Japan’s first dedicated app games for the over-60s — she is now in such demand that this year Apple invited her to participate at their prestigious Worldwide Developers Conference, where she was the oldest app creator to take part.
‘Hinadan’ was inspired by the Hina Matsuri, a doll festival which takes place every March, where ornamental dolls representing the emperor, his family and their guests are displayed in a specific arrangement.
In Wakamiya’s app, users have to put them in the correct positions — a task which is harder than it sounds, requiring memorisation of the complex arrangements.
The app, which is currently only available in Japanese, has been downloaded 42,000 times with hundreds of positive comments from users.
And while these figures are relatively small compared to Japan’s big-hitting apps which are downloaded in their millions, ‘Hinadan’ has proved popular enough that Wakamiya plans to release English, Chinese and possibly French versions of the app before next year’s festival.